- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) yesterday introduced highly sophisticated radiation portal monitors designed to better prevent terrorists or others from attempting to smuggle “dirty bombs” into the United States through U.S. seaports.

CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said the monitors, which detect the radiological materials used in nuclear and radiological dispersal devices, known as dirty bombs, are being deployed rapidly to all of the country’s major seaports of entry.

In addition to the monitors, Mr. Bonner said, other sophisticated equipment used by CBP in its “layered enforcement strategy” already in use includes large-scale non-intrusive inspection technology, X-ray type machines that can scan entire sea containers in two to three minutes, personal radiation detection devices and radiation isotope identifiers that can pinpoint the source and nature of radiation.

These devices are important in detecting and identifying radioactive materials moving through a port of entry, he said.

“The best way to prevent a terrorist attack is by preventing terrorists or terrorist weapons from entering our country in the first instance. The recent terrorist attacks in Madrid drive home the increased need to secure our borders against terrorist penetration,” Mr. Bonner said.

“The new highly sophisticated radiation detection devices U.S. Customs and Border Protection is deploying in our seaports are a major step in ensuring that our border and our country are more secure,” he said.

CBP spokeswoman Paula Keicer said the radiation portals being deployed at U.S. seaports enhance the agency’s “already formidable radiation detection capabilities.”

She noted that CBP already has deployed more than 300 radiation isotope identifier devices, known as RIIDs, to every major seaport and land border crossing in the United States.

The devices are hand-held instruments capable of detecting and identifying various types of radiation emanating from radioactive materials, including those used in a dirty bombs as well as special nuclear materials, natural sources and isotopes commonly used in medicine and industry.

In May 2002, Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and convert to Islam, was arrested by the FBI in a suspected scheme to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States. Padilla, a New York native and convicted felon whose Arabic name, Abdullah al Muhajir, translates to “the emigrant,” was stopped at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and later turned over to U.S. military authorities, who are holding him as an enemy combatant.

Authorities believe Padilla intended to detonate a bomb at several targets, including government buildings in Washington. His trip to Chicago in May 2002, authorities said, was to begin reconnaissance for a bombing target and seek a source for the radioactive material for a dirty bomb.

CBP is the agency within the Homeland Security Department charged with the protection of the nation’s borders.

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